Stephen Colbert Is My Hero

I'm still agog over Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. In case you didn't see it, Crooks and Liars has the clip. I honestly think this was a historic event: a comic with the courage to stand up just a few feet from the most powerful man in the world and tell him that the emperor had no clothes, and to do so in a room full of the most powerful media people who had utterly failed in their job.

The Anonymous Liberal:

Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner the other night is quickly gaining mythical status in liberal popular lore. As well it should. As I watched it on C-SPAN, I could hardly believe what I was seeing and hearing. The most powerful man in the world was being mercilessly skewered, in person, in front of a live television audience, for over 20 minutes. And he had to just sit there and take it.

I'm no historian, but I'm willing to wager that what I saw the other night has never happened. Ever.

Human beings have been around for quite a long time, and during that time, the title of "most powerful man in the world" has been held by a great many people. George W. Bush is merely the latest. But he may be the first to ever have been mocked so publicly and so personally (and so hysterically) while holding that title….

Stephen Colbert was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Everyone who his life has been devoted to mocking (and justifiably so) was going to be in one room, and he was going to be the featured entertainment. He knew he had 20 minutes where all of these people would be a captive audience, including the leader of the free world seated just a few feet to his right. Sure, he could have delivered some light-hearted but forgettable Leno-esque performance and called it a night. But he knew he would have regretted it for the rest of his life. He knew that for the rest of his days he would be replaying jokes in his head that he wished he'd had the courage to say at the time.

A lot of people–mostly conservatives–have accused Colbert of misjudging the audience. But the truth is, Colbert never intended to play to that stuffy self-important crowd. They, after all, were the butt of his jokes. I think Colbert's true target audience was himself in 20 years. He's going to look back on that performance and feel nothing but pride. He's going to know that he left it all out on the table, that he seized his opportunity and made the most of it. And, like me, he's going to laugh his ass off.

So congratulations, Stephen Colbert, you may have become the first person in history to mock the most powerful person in the world–to his face, for over 20 minutes–and live to tell your tale.

And in a perfect bit of irony, the very press corps that Colbert so perfectly skewered that night seems totally oblivious to the fact that history was made right before their eyes. They couldn't spot a story if it openly mocked them.

Kung Fu Monkey says:

If Colbert "bombed", it was because the audience didn't like him. And you know what — they WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO. We have been treated to toothless feel-good comedy for so long, we have forgotten what the court jester's job was: he was the only guy who could mock the King. And, seeing as we now have a President who acts like a King, it's only fitting that Colbert revive the tradition in its truest form. If I remember correctly, the toady court followers were also fair game for the Jester, and we could hardly call the modern media anything less these days, can we?

As for Colbert crossing the line — how? Did he make remarks about the President's wife? About his children? His sex life? His draft dodging, his drinking and drug use before he found the Lord? No. Every joke used a well-known fact of public-record. Does anyone deny the poll numbers cited? Does anyone deny that the government response to previous crisises have been deficient? Does anyone deny that Administration officials outed Valerie Plame (hell, even the Administration officials now have to rely on he idea it was accidental)? Does anyone deny that the Administration has actively opposed global warming discussions? Listen — if the President could do a long routine about not finding WMD's and laughing about it, while US soldiers died in the resultant war … then to be frank I think he set the bar. Oddly, I think that if Colbert had done the routine the President did a couple years ago, THAT would have been crossing the line for me….

One of the insanely annoying phrases lefties overuse is "Speaking truth to power." Well, kids, you know what? Standing three feet from the most powerful man in the world and poking fun at his public foibles, telling your audience that they are cowards by doing nothing more than pointing out the truth of their actions — THAT'S speaking truth to power. Mutter to yourselves all you want, civilians. Colbert, that night, became one of the stories comics will trade for literally decades to come. Young comics will learn it from old comics. Audiences come and go. We honor our own.

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About James G. Milles

Professor of Law, SUNY Buffalo Law School

Posted on May 2, 2006, in Freedom, Humor, Politics, TV. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. We’ve been following this… the footage is a MUST SEE! I think I’ll have to let Jon Stewart’s “Ballsalicious” sum it up for me. I don’t think any of them knew what was hitting them over the head, repeatedly, with witnesses, and while being filmed. Yay Colbert!

  2. It’s intriguing that this story has pretty much bypassed the MSM by being distribute over the net through YouTube and the like. A few years ago an event like this would have easily disappeared into the memory hole.

  3. i try to find something at google.com and take it on your site…thanks

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